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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 16:57 GMT
Smaller films in Oscar spotlight
By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Small is definitely beautiful if this year's Academy Award nominations are anything to go by.

Ellen Page (centre), Olivia Thirlby and Allison Janney in Juno
Comedy Juno is up for three Oscars, including best picture
Cast an eye down this year's Oscar shortlist and you will see two contrasting kinds of movies.

On the one hand you have violent, downbeat, male-dominated dramas like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

On the other you will find smaller, more gentle fare notable for having female talent both in front of and behind the camera.

In terms of scale, too, the nominations seem to cover both ends of the spectrum.

In one corner you have the epic sweep of British hopeful Atonement and the bloody Grand Guignol of Sweeney Todd.

And then you have quieter, more delicate stories tackling such difficult subjects as teenage pregnancy, senile dementia and - in the case of Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - debilitating physical incapacity.

Academy voters will therefore have to choose between diverse material that, with some notable exceptions, falls pretty much along gender lines.

Whatever they decide, though, this is undoubtedly the year when smaller pictures stood up to be counted.

Quirky

Witness the four nominations for Juno, a significant haul for a moderately-budgeted "indie" about a schoolgirl who falls pregnant.

One of those nominations goes to Diablo Cody, a former stripper and phone sex operator recognised for her first produced screenplay.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in The Savages
Laura Linney (right) is recognised for her role in The Savages
Then there is The Savages, a melancholy comedy about two siblings caring for an ageing parent that landed surprise nominations for star Laura Linney and director Tamara Jenkins' script.

Julie Christie is favourite to win best actress for her role as an Alzheimer's sufferer in Away from Her. But actress-turned-director Sarah Polley has also been nominated for her moving adapted screenplay.

The original screenplay category, meanwhile, sees Nancy Oliver named for Lars and the Real Girl, the offbeat tale of a mentally ill loner who falls in love with a life-sized female doll.

The chances are that many of the above will be edged out come Oscar night by other nominees who have already built up a head of steam from previous awards events.

In many ways, though, the victory is already theirs for earning a place in this year's race with singular, quirky and intimate contributions.

Young and old

Clearly it has been a strong year for fresh-faced newcomers like Juno's Ellen Page or 13-year-old Atonement star Saoirse Ronan.

But old-timers get a look-in too, with a couple of octogenarians - Hal Holbrook from Into the Wild and American Gangster's Ruby Dee - both earning acting nominations.

Paul Schneider, Emily Mortimer and Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl
Lars and the Real Girl has received a best original screenplay nod
Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda, also in his ninth decade, sees his latest work Katyn up for best foreign language film.

Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins, meanwhile, has not one but two nominations - for No Country For Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

So, incidentally, does Cate Blanchett, who is up for best actress for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and best supporting actress for playing Bob Dylan in I'm Not There.

The latter consideration offers the tantalising chance of a highly unusual Academy Awards occurrence.

Only one performer has won an Oscar for playing someone of the opposite sex - Linda Hunt in 1982's The Year of Living Dangerously. Could it be time for another?

It looks as though those gender lines are blurring as we speak.

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